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Wernyhora – a Ukrainian lyricist and bard, according to some a legendary person, according to others a historical person living in the second half of the 18th century – became famous for political prophecies regarding the fate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Ukraine. He was supposed to have foreseen the bloody Cossack rebellions, the partitioning of Poland, the unsuccessful national liberation uprisings and the revival of the Polish statehood.

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Wernyhora – a Ukrainian lyricist and bard, according to some a legendary person, according to others a historical person living in the second half of the 18th century – became famous for political prophecies regarding the fate of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth and Ukraine. He was supposed to have foreseen the bloody Cossack rebellions, the partitioning of Poland, the unsuccessful national liberation uprisings and the revival of the Polish statehood. After the loss of independence and in times of successively emerging hopes for the restitution of the Polish state, circulated written copies of prophecies enjoyed great popularity. Wernyhora became the character of Romantic literature in, among others, works by Juliusz Słowacki, and the subject of pictorial depictions.
Matejko pictured Wernyhora at the moment of prophetic inspiration. The characters and objects gathered around him, as well as the nocturnal scenery, have symbolic significance: they refer to the political and religious relations between Poland and Ukraine, as well as the impending tragedy – the Koliyivshchyna rebellion [Koliszczyzna], the struggles of the Bar Confederation and the destruction of the homeland. The figures presented include a Polish nobleman writing a prophecy, a haidamaka [robber/bandit] with a rifle, a Cossack with a shaved head, a young Ukrainian woman in a folk costume, an Orthodox priest or monk sitting over a pile of knives, a pair of young people and a child with a gorget depicting the Mother of God. The moon creates a golden halo around Wernyhora’s head, indicating that he is a “man of God”, one chosen and inspired. The white-and-red clothes of the seer allegorises the Polish political beliefs, and the lyre lying on the ground symbolises the power of the song that stores the memory of the nation’s history.


Elaborated by Wacława Milewska (The National Museum in Kraków), © all rights reserved

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Painting “Wernyhora” by Jan Matejko

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Obraz „Wernyhora” Jana Matejki [audiodeskrypcja] Tells: Fundacja na Rzecz Rozwoju Audiodeskrypcji KATARYNKA
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Obraz „Wernyhora” Jana Matejki Tells: Piotr Krasny
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